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Central Asia

Kazakh banks respond to Covid with a digital push

The investment by Kazakhstan’s banks in their digital offerings had the first big test when Covid-19 struck; firms responded by rapidly rolling out online services to clients. Their transformation is remarkable, but it also raises an important question: where do they go from here?

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Umut Shayakhmetova, who runs Halyk Bank, Kazakhstan’s largest bank by assets, had to work flat out when the government announced a full lockdown in March 2020 to combat the spread of Covid-19.

At first she had to adapt to working remotely and make some quick, but necessary decisions for Halyk. For example, she had to make changes to interest payment calculations to adhere to new repayment holiday rules; she also held daily conference calls with regulators and government officials to ensure that Covid-linked social security payments reached Kazakh citizens digitally.

“It was a lot of daily decisions being taken very quickly, making them legitimate and putting them into effect,” Shayakhmetova says. “There was no time for thinking or feeling something else; it was a pressure time for making decisions.”

That rapid response helped Halyk to a reasonably good 2020. For the first nine months of the year, net income slipped 2.7% year on year to KT244.6 billion ($582 million). On a quarter-on-quarter basis, net income rose from KT74.9 billion in the second quarter to KT88.7 billion in the third quarter of 2020, an increase of about 18%.